Saturday, November 03, 2007
Once I was sitting in a hot tub with my BFF and David C. Cook editor Lisa. We were working. The hot tub and vino were just a couple a job perks that come when you are the throes of creation at your editor's cabin and she's got it like that. You get it like that, by default.
We were talking about our books, dreams, threw in some yakkin' about class and social justice, and somewhere in that conversational gumbo she noted that my Amanda Bell Brown characters, as well as Zora and Nicky characters were solidly middle class.
Intersting, since I've never been middle class a day in my ghetto fabulous life. Not even when I lived in Ann Arbor, one of the most affluent cities in Michigan.
"Do you have a ghetto book in you?" she asked.
I sure did. I told her The Exorsistah would be my ghetto book. But I was going to set it in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor has a few hidden ghetto pockets. I lived in one, of course. There a drive-by, was somebody riding down the street and waving as they drive by. Yeah. It's real hard.
Anyway, by circumstances conspired against my Ann Arbor setting, because most of my books are set close to home. I like environments that I can see and experience. But right when I started writing X I found out to my horror, that God would drag me kicking and screaming back to the ghetto land of my fathers. I live five blocks from the housing project that tormented me as a child. Project of sirens and gunshot lullabyes to cry myself to sleep to. Needless to say we had a change of setting. And now, surpise, Emme Vaughn, aka The Exoristah, has found herself, having been dragged kicking and screaming, back to the ghetto land of her mothers.
I was thinking about Bill Cosby and how he is going around speaking about "our people" and how we need to get ourselves together. I wrote Emme thoughtful, intelligent, and well spoken, just so the 'Cos wouldn't talk about me like a dog on Oprah. Then I mixed it up and made her "bilingual." She can speak both English and Ebonics with ease. I thought this would make White people happy, and still give her some "flava". White people love to use the word flava.
In the end, I decided to make Emme very smart, but STRAIGHT GHETTO! Sistah talks all kinda smack. I be slaughtering the language, and yet, you can't miss her smarts. That's how I envisioned her from the beginning, when the idea was just funny to me, and me and my friend Bethany were kickin' it about it on the net.
Well, the problem with ghetto writing, or any other kind, is that once you reached that magic place of really entering the story world, and you've finally found your "voice"? You start sounding like that. I been ghetto for weeks now, and it's gettin' worse, yo'. Y'all prolly noticed a distinct change in Mair "flava" up in this piece. I cain't even help it. You would think I was in the twelf grade again, and ain't have no, what my girl Mary calls, "White people anointing" yet. Shoot. And I on't even know how to turn it off. That's gon' be a hella big problem when I start the other book, which, in the time I got, might haveta be a ghetto book, too. Shoooooed. We gon' see.
But I digress.
I thought since I been workin' on rewrites all day, I'd share a lil' Emme wit' chall. She been puttin' her black leather Timbs all up in my behind. I'm trippin' 'cus I ain't think this book was gon' put it to a sistah like all dat. But yo', what was I thinkin'. This mug is about a exorsitah. But dang. You know? It ain't got to beat a sistah like a slave.
Anyway, check this out. Lemme know if it's straight. Okay?
The Exorsistah (This a rough draft, y'all. Unedited. Uncorrected. Unadulterated. Much. That means you might not see nunna dis when the book is done.) Comin' soon, from Simon and Schuster.
I hate demons.
A demon was the reason why I didn’t get to finish cooking my French fries. I could have had a spiritual experience with those fries. I’d gotten so hungry I was about to go straight up Kirk Franklin—complete with throwing my hands up and raising the roof just because they smelled so good.
I’d spent the whole day cleaning Kiki’s house from top to bottom, and after all that sat in the kitchen peeling what felt like was enough potatoes for an army. It was really just enough for Kiki, her husband Ray, and a few leftover for me. I don’t eat much. I try not to impose on people wherever I stay. The streets taught me the wisdom of eating to live instead of living to eat, and watching Kiki’s struggle with super-obesity only made that truth even more real to a sistah. But man, if Mama could see how skinny I am now she’d straight up trip.
But she couldn’t see me. Not where she was.
I hate thinking about Mama.
So, I watched the fries, cut about as skinny as I am, sizzling in the hot grease, browning to perfection. I could almost taste them, and I was gonna get my grub on.
I deserved those fries. I ain’t gon’ lie. Humility isn’t my strongest virtue, but I didn’t think it was wrong to believe after all the work I’d done I at least earned a little something to eat.
Armed with a spatula, I turned the fries over and tapped the excess grease off to the rhythm of a funky beat I had going on in my head. I liked to make beats and add a little spoken Word to it. When they took my mama away from me, rhyming helped me make sense of my feelings. Words gave me a safe place to channel my pent up rage. Until that rage turned to sorrow. Ain’t nothing to keep you safe from sorrow, baby, but rhyming kept me sane.
I was working on a few verses from Psalm 70 in The Message as I cooked. Turning over possibilities in my head for rhyming:
God! Please hurry to my rescue!
God! Come quickly to my side!
Those who are out to get me—
Let them fall all over themselves.
I liked the urgent feel of the first two verses. I needed to come up with a way to make the last two verses rhyme without compromising the Word. So, I’m tappin’ out a beat on the edge of the skillet, meditating, just doin’ my thing. Not messing with anybody.
I should have been straight.
And for real, most of the time it’s all good when I cook for Kiki. The fact that I focus on the Word when I burn is one of the main reasons she likes me to cook for her. Not that she needs a lot of reasons. Let’s just say she don’t cook no more. She can hardly walk. Kiki weighs 568 pounds. The weight she carries is too much for her to bear. And I ain’t talkin’ about just her overburdened frame. I mean it’s a burden for her to be a big girl living in this weight obsessed, discriminating society. People look at her and all they see is a glutton. But it ain’t even about that. Yeah, she used food for comfort a lot more than most of us, but she ain’t no different from a whole lot of people I know who got something that makes them feel good, even though it’s not healthy how they use it. Unfortunately she wore her weakness on her body for all the world to see. Most folks can hide their addictions.
At least Kiki was tryna lose weight. She didn’t eat all that high calorie take-out junk anymore. That left me to do the cooking when Ray didn’t, and they didn’t order in, which means I almost always cooked. But I ain’t Emeril. There’s only so much I can burn, but she wanted some French fries. I can do fries. I know they’re not healthy, but I didn’t have it in me to be the food police when I knew how much she denied herself already. She was workin’ it, and I wasn’t mad at her for wanting something hot, greasy, and salty instead of iceberg lettuce with taste-free dressing.
By now the beat in my head was feeling as hot and poppin’ as the grease in the skillet. I danced in place, fantasizing about some kick-butt diva boots I saw at Briarwood Mall. Prada. Yeah, baby! Black and fine as me. The most luxurious leather you’ve ever seen, like, calf-skin with a kitten heel short enough for me kick some butt in—or run if I had to—and still look fly. Those boots had Emme Vaughn written all over them, and I couldn’t wait for the day I’d trade my black leather Timberlands for something so fantabulously glamorous.
In your dreams, Emme. Cause this sistah was so broke, I couldn’t even pay attention.
I was about to put the spatula back into the grease when the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. The room went twenty-degrees colder in an instant.
My demon sense kicked in.
Some people might think it’s just them when they feel the temperature suddenly drop for no apparent reason. Like maybe they need to put on a sweater or something. They ain’t thinking about the dark side. The Word says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” But come on, who wants to think about stuff like that just because the room got cold. And for real, most of the time it is just a little chilly, but sometimes it’s not.
I ain’t tryna scare nobody, but truth be told demons are all over the place. This planet was their piece before it was ours. So, they’re all up in the air. That’s what the Bible says. Satan is the Prince of the powers of the air. But don’t trip. There are angels, good angels, not the fallen kind, and they’re everywhere, too. I don’t want folks to go around thinking only devils are everywhere when there’s good all around us. Crazy good. And good battles evil all the time. Most people just can’t see it.
Me? I can see some of it. Sometimes.
It’s like we’re all wearing these dark shades, like those joints Will Smith wore in the movie Men in Black, but the ones we got on are even darker. But sometimes, for whatever reason, I my lens changes to, like, blue blockers, and suddenly everything is a little more clear, and for a moment I can see part of the invisible kingdoms.
First of all, I get a glimpse of this take-your-breath-away-beautiful creatures of Divine, perfect light. And yo’, these archangels, and cheribum, seraphim are, like, more glorious than anything imaginable. I see God’s soldiers—angels beatin’ the brakes off of evil. And it’s all good. It helps me remember that no matter what it seems like, in the end, God really is gon’ win, just like the Bible says.
Anway, I’m cooking my fries, and this cold front creeps in. It’s like a suffocating, weighted cold, hanging heavy on my body. My lungs felt like I was about to have an asthma attack or something. For all the problems I had, I didn’t have nobody’s asthma.
I turned around real slow—God knows I wasn’t in a hurry to see what crept into the kitchen. That’s when I peeped Kiki’s husband Ray leaning against the door, leering at me.
I knew things were about to get ugly.
Now Ray is a big dude. Teddy bear type, only I wouldn’t wanna be cuddling with him. Tall ,brown and round in the middle. He wasn’t as big as Kiki was, but yo’, Ray wasn’t no joke. He had stuffed his hands inside the pockets of his mustard colored Dockers, exposing his wide girth straining beneath a white t-shirt. Eyes looking all crazy, with a lust demon the size of a Hummer trailing behind him.
And all I could think was, Daaaaaaaang! That’s a big un’.
I ain’t never lied about that. That had to be the most gigantic, freakiest looking lust demon I’d ever seen. I’d seen freaky demons floating around Ray before, but they were some pee-wees next to that big monster. This one had to be twelve-feet long, blood colored, with a human-looking face—I always see them with human-looking faces—and it had wings that extended four feet on either side.
It had some kind of bold, black markings on its back, and its tail curled like a live wire around its fat body. It slithered around Ray and went up to the ceiling, writhing and baring its yellow fangs like it was tryna smile at me.
I kept trippin’ on the immensity of that thing. Did Ray ask Satan to super-size his demon? He had to be some kinda nasty to pick that one up. Or maybe the demon made Ray nasty. I didn’t know, but I sho’ didn’t want to rumble with that thing. Or Ray. I just wanted to eat! I hoped against hope that thing and Ray would leave a sistah to cook her fries in peace.
The demon snaked around the stove like a bug drawn to the light, and now it was all up in my face, teasing me. It licked its ol’ black, forked tongue at me, and every time it did it, it’s stank breath hit me.
Sulfur. And something dead smelling.
If you want a good reason not to go to hell, demon funk is a fine choice—well, that and the whole eternal damnation and separation from God thing.
And the demon presence didn’t pose my only problem. Ray kept inching up to me. He had the nerve to lick his lips like he was about to use them.
I balled up my fist.
You don’t know me like that, Ray.
I may not be able to physically knock a preternatural being upside the head, but Ray was flesh and blood and I could bust him upside his. Emme don’t play. I was sick of dudes pushing up on me like I was some kind of hoochie mama asking for it. And I hadn’t had any food, either? I was irate!
I swiped another quick glance at the demon cutting a fool right in front of me. I had to make sure it wasn’t about to try something I wasn’t ready for.
It winked at me, and did a little jig with what I supposed was its hips, then zoomed over to just behind Ray’s head.
I hate a showoff, especially a demonic one.
Now I had to think fast about my situation. I was freezing; a big red lust thing acting like R. Kelly was gyrating in front of me; and it’s funk, and not the good kind, was about to make me pass out.
The demon snaked its head out and whispered something in Ray’s ear. I couldn’t hear what it said, but it didn’t matter. It sho’ wasn’t asking directions to the nearest herd of pigs. Then it peeked around Ray’s head and called me out of my name. Loudly.
It called me the ‘b’ word!
Hold up! Don’t nobody call me that, and I sho’ ain’t having a fallen, punk useta-be-angel break on me. This was war.
I rolled my shoulders back and stood as tall as I could, which wasn’t hard since I’m 5’11 in stocking feet. I caught a glimpse of the details of the black, intricate design covering its back. The tattoo-like pattern looked almost beautiful, but not quite. For a moment I let it capture my attention.
It could have incapacitated me until I remembered something my mama told me. She said Satan could appear as an angel of light. Now, I didn’t see any angels of light. The demons I saw were foul looking, but II Corinthians 11:14 backed her up. Anyway, I figured in this case the design was like some kind of demon offense. It was there to distract me from battling it. If I kept staring at it, not only could the demon weaken me, Ray could shoot a move. That ain’t work for me. I forced myself to focus.
I put my hand on the black onyx rosary beads my mother gave me before she got too sick to use them herself. I always wore those beads. She never taught me how to use them, but they gave me comfort anyway. Sometimes, when I touched them, I could hear my mother’s voice praying the rosary.
This looked bad for me. It wasn’t like I could do some serious spiritual warfare if Ray was gonna try and touch me, which made me even madder. Yeah, I could rebuke the demon, and I needed to do it fast. But I was still gonna have myself a problem, because Ray was steady gettin’ ready to get his swerve on, a very human condition.
Floating demons can only do so much, but big men with bodies influenced by a demon, or plain ol’ male lust, now they’re a trip. That didn’t mean I’d let the demon is off the hook.
Heck-e-naw. Especially since I smelled my French fries burning.
I clutched the crucifix hanging from my rosary. I felt the same sweet Jesus my mama kissed so many times before she prayed, laid out on the cross between my fingers. That’s how I put my courage on. If the Lord could hang his broken body on a cross, I could tell a demon in my friend’s kitchen to dip in His name.
I shouted, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!” to ol’ lusty butt—the demon that is.
It winced. So did Ray, but neither of them went anywhere. Ray stepped up to me and grabbed me in a sho’ nuff dishonoring way. I tried to push him away. Now I didn’t want to start scrappin’ with Kiki’s ol’ man. I wanted to be respectful, but now Ray had violated a sistah, and like I said, Emme don’t play.
I tried rebuking one more time before I started whoppin’ heads.
“I said I rebuke you! Get up outta here in Jesus’ name, or you gon’ get your unholy butt beat. Did you hear me? I said, in Jesus’ name.
The demon trembled. Ray did not. I thrust the crucifix up over my head toward the ceiling, which wasn’t easy with Ray all up in my space.
Ray laughed. “Girl, you don’t think that cross is gon’ do anything to me, do you?”
I was prolly gon’ do something, too.
Ray ignored me. Darn that free will! The demon, however, had to bow to the Name of Jesus. It recoiled and slunk away, its red talons drawn up and tail tucked into its hide.
Ray kept trippin’, like I hadn’t said a mumbling word. Dude had me backed up against the stove, and I wondered when I’d catch on fire. He’d pushed me dangerously close to the flame beneath the skillet. Even though the demon had gone, I still need a little help.
Think, Emme—think like you’ve got on those diva boots.
The hot oil. I could burn him. It’d be self-defense.
My heart pounded against my ribcage like was locked up in jail, and banging on the bars to escape. I let go of the crucifix.
The way Ray had me hemmed as far against the stove as I could go, one of us was gonna get hurt, like, right now, and Emme don’t like third degree burns. I had to negotiate with myself. Should I go ahead and fry somebody influenced by the spawn of Satan? Or no.
I’d give that fool one last chance.
“The fries are burning.” I said. “I gotta turn ‘em off.”
I really needed to turn Ray off. He released me long enough for me to turn around. I reached for the knob and turned it to shut the gas flame off, but the grease was still hot enough to do some serious damage. The fries would prolly stick to him.
My heart thundered inside of me.
I’m sorry, God. But I can’t take this no more.
I grabbed the handle of the skillet with my bare hand. It felt hot, but not so hot that I couldn’t handle it. Fear gnawed in my gut more than hunger did, knowing what was going to happen.
I moved the skillet—maybe a half-an-inch. Rage stormed inside of me. The acrid smell of the burnt french fries and the sulfuric stench of the demon still hung in the air. Ray’s ol’ nasty hands pawed all over me. Emme got burning mad. Ray’s lips touched my neck.
He hissed in my ear, “I been thinking about you.”
Fry him, Emme.
Kiki called from upstairs. “Is something burning, honey?”
I wanted to shout, “Your husband is gon' be,” but what I yelled was, “Sorry.” And I was, because I couldn’t see ‘no happy ending’ as clearly as I saw the demon that ruined everything.
“You need to step off me Ray,” I said through clenched teeth.
“She’ll wait,” he said. “Especially for food. I can make you feel good, baby. A girl like you? You know you want this. You don’t fool me.”
“Back up off me before you get hurt.” Fear and anger mixed together made a volatile combination.
A still small voice I recognized as the Holy Spirit whispered inside me.
You’ll go to juvie if you hurt him. Leave him to Me.
They’ll have to find me first.
Leave him to Me, Emme.
But I had to say something to Ray, at least to get him off me. “Get yo’ hands off me. Now!”
He lost patience with me. Grabbed a fistful of my hair. I had taken down my braids. Kiki was going to put it in cornrows for me when she woke up. It was a wild mess, hanging down my back in thick, knotty afro curls.
Ray sneered, “You’re a pretty little black thing.”
My mind zeroed in on the word black. I’d always been self-conscious about my skin color. My skin is dark—luminous, deep ebony with an almost purple undertone. Growing up the kids useta tease me all the time. Said I was so black you couldn’t see me at night. Or if I went to a funeral I wouldn’t have to put on clothes. That made me even madder.
Ray started rubbing his hands up and down my arms.
“Come on, let me take care of you,” he said.
I remembered the first time he’d said that. I didn’t know this was what he had in mind. I should have. But I never had a daddy. I thought Ray might be different, that maybe I’d be safe with him and Kiki, and they would be like a mama and daddy to me. My real foster parents were never as cool to me as they were. I hoped I could hide out with them until I could age out of the foster system. I only had twenty-three more days. Then I could stop hiding, and we could all be happy.
Ray tried to kiss me again. For a moment I couldn’t move because Ray’s breath was, like, worse than demon funk. I hated the fact that I’d been in this predicament more times than any sistah should have to be. No sistah should ever be disrespect or invaded, and that was me: victimized. In foster home after foster home. On the streets. With a lust demon hovering overhead or not.
What was I gon’ do?
Ray said, “I’ll give you some money.”
Like I'm some kinda hooker.
“Okay,” I said to get him off me, and he moved back. I had my chance. All I had to do was pick the skillet up and change my life.
Only God asked me not to. And I wanted to obey Him.
Shoot. Ray was Kiki’s husband, and besides, it’s like the scriptures say, we wrestle not against flesh and blood.
But since flesh and blood was involved, I gave him something to remember me by: a swift elbow to the neck that left his nasty butt hacking and coughing.
I bounced. The lust demon had, hopefully, gone back to whatever hell it came from, and Ray would no doubt think twice about pushin’ up on Emme Vaughn again, demon influenced or no—if I ever saw him again—which I probably wouldn’t. Problem solved.
But that left me with my next dilemma. Where the heck was I going to go now?
I was officially homeless.